Hello, stranger.

Hello, stranger. I know. It’s been a while.

I’ve been trying to work out why I haven’t written for so long, and I’ve found the reason(s) to be a mixture of self-doubt and self-preservation. I’ve faced the blank page too many times in the past two months, freezing up at the white screen, wondering what the point is of what I’m writing. Analysing subjectivity, I reached the point about a month ago where I was analysing my own every word, trying to find the reasoning behind each of those words, the experiences that had led me to type that exact sequence of letters onto the page. I think I went a little crazy, analysing myself and then analysing that analysis and so on. And then it became too much for my computer, which crashed. (That’s not an excuse, but it was probably a side-effect of this neurotic journey my writing has taken since May.)

Aside from the overanalytics (word?), I’ve also been away because my memoir project has led me to deal with material — memories — that are unfiltered, uncensored and potentially hurtful to some readers of this blog. My research question continues to evolve, but at this point asks: in writing subjectivity as content rather than unintentional subtext, how can I transcend the paradox that is ‘writing the truth’? To answer this question I am writing down memories without editing. We tend to edit our memories for logic, propriety and consistency before we recount them to others, and I think this editing leads to the omission of the important details — those that indicate the fallibility of memories, the irrationality of emotions and the presumptions we make based on our personal experiences of the world. I think this is where our subjectivity lies and I think it should remain explicit or at least ‘clearly implicit’ in our stories. Sometimes what ‘makes sense’, whether it be linear or rational or provable, isn’t necessarily ‘most true’.

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Assignments, consciousness, etc.

With two 40% assignments due this week and another due next week, I’m feeling both the stress of impending deadlines and weaknesses in my own process of research thus far. These both sound quite negative, I know, but at this stage of the research year I’m trying to learn from each and better understand my own reaction to pressure and the unknown, in relation to academia and the writing process.

Having spent the better part of every day for the past six weeks reading, writing or thinking about my nonfiction research, I should be feeling on-track and immersed in my research problem. The thing is, though, that everything I read and write seems to evade my question and at the same time invite more questions — isn’t there a famous quote that says the more we learn, the more we realise how little we know? Well, that’s how I feel right now. I’m presenting a project next week that is supposed to move my research question forward, but instead it’s taken me back to the basics. My original question was about subjectivity and personal interest in writing, and as a result of my project it has become a question of whether or not we should edit nonfiction writing — how does the construct of coherency change the truth presented? And it’s also invited me to wonder what subjectivity even is, which is not a writing question but some abstract philosophical problem I’ll probably never know the answer to. I’m wondering also about craft – which is at least something more tangible – how subjectivity can be used to frame a story truthfully? Again, I’m unsure, because the very notion of ‘craft’ denotes construction, a fabrication of something. But if this craft reflects the writer’s intention, I suppose it’s not fabricated after all. Is anything fabricated then?

ANYWAY.

What is my research process? How have I learnt what I’ve learnt? This is what I’m returning to in both of my assignments. For the project presentation, I’m wondering how the readings I’ve been moving through shaped what I wrote as well as how I wrote it — both the theoretical writing and the creative writing. Doesn’t subjectivity include what is happening to the writer now?

To contextualise, here is the first paragraph of my project presentation:

My precursor project is a series of three pieces of writing, each completed in a single sitting, but the second one a response to the first, and the third one a response to the first and second. Through this process and resulting 3000 words, I looked into my own subjectivity, fragmentation of truth and personal interest. My research lies in the field of creative nonfiction, encompassing forms such as memoir and essay, and theories about truth and recollection. Here I was exploring what happens when I, as a nonfiction writer, write from memory? What arises immediately from silence and from recollections of the past? I’m interested in what Francesca Rendle-Short calls ‘the shape and colour and dimension of the darkness’ helping us write what we don’t know about people we know. But what are the limits and implications of writing what I know, or what could be also referred to as what I remember?

My pieces reflected on childhood and the subjectivity that has arisen from those experiences. But reading over these pieces, I wonder about the layers of subjectivity. How about myself now? How does the present self respond to its own memories as a child? I wrote three pieces, and I don’t like the first two because I am embarrassed by how I felt and thought when I was younger. Isn’t it subjective to omit these words though — isn’t this for personal interest too? Isn’t my effort to make my memories more coherent in the third piece a move of personal interest — the interest to gain appreciative readers?

I don’t think there is a limit to this question of subjectivity, and so for the purposes of Honours, probably isn’t worth pursuing in this way.

Rather, I should be taking subjectivity as ever-limitless and exploring how it can be used in writing to frame or implicitly reveal the truth in a piece of work. That the self is the truest content we will find in any piece of writing, so how can it be used as a device for depth and understanding?

Kim Dana Kupperman, a memoir essayist whose work I’ve been reading, writes that “The construction of dimensionality is as particular as — and as linked to — a writer’s style, which E.B. White call the ability ‘to break through the barriers that separate [the writer] from other minds, other hearts’ (The Elements of Style 70)…movement — how a writer unfolds the characters, times, and spaces of a story — furnishes literary nonfiction with its dimensionality…” This “writer’s style”, which I suppose encompasses the background a writer is made from, including subjectivity, is what I’m interested in. How does the nonfiction writer — how should the nonfiction writer — influence their own writing? Kim Dana Kupperman stresses the importance of “contraction and expansion of time, space and consciousness.” What does this mean?

Not sure if I’m on the right track yet, but at least my research is moving forward somewhere.

Exploring Un-Memories

I attended my first supervisory meeting yesterday with Francesca Rendle-Short, who is an Associate Professor at RMIT. She is the author of two books (a novel and a novel/memoir) and various papers. You can check out her work here. Anyway, we had our first meeting yesterday and I came away from it with a more tangible (and slightly changed) direction to my research. We discussed my desire to write the story of my subject, and Francesca suggested that exploring this desire, rather than simply doing the project and quashing my own thoughts about it for the sake of facts, might be a worthy project in itself and provide a sturdier, more ethical base on which to build the larger project of telling someone else’s story. She pointed out that if I really wanted to tell this story and have it published, it would be a project more than a year in the making, and the background aspect would be a valuable place to start.

I was initially resistant to this suggestion, wondering how it would be more ethical to start a project about someone else without asking them for their story? Upon reflection, though, it makes sense. The question I’d been asking myself was how could I tell this story truthfully. It would make sense to explore this question further and fully understand my own subjectivity before trying to apply it to circumstances involving ethical responsibilities.

SO, my slightly altered research question is something along the lines of:

In March 2011, there was an earthquake in Japan of magnitude 9.03, followed by a tsunami of 40 metres that travelled 10km inland, followed by the slow leak of a nuclear disaster. There was a consequent earthquake on social media documenting the events unfolding; a fragmented retelling. From the media’s silence in the aftermath, individual stories began to emerge from the rubble. Experiences, trauma. Due to a family connection to one particular survivor of this disaster who left for Japan ten years ago, I am interested in retelling this story of an earthquake. However, creative nonfiction is impossible to detach from subjectivity, fragmentation of truth and personal interest. My project will explore the implications (and ethics) of telling someone else’s story.

The idea is, in the context of my Honours project, I would explore my own subjectivity relating to the experiences of my subject and how they have formed the expectations and presumptions that I would take into our interview process and project together. Currently, I am caught in the state of not knowing. What are my memories of my subject, and what have I imagined in these past ten years of no communication? My project will form a memoir of sorts, in that it will be a collection of memories and the un-memories that come from silence and consequent projected images of someone I haven’t seen in the flesh since I was small. It will explore where our subjectivity comes from and how it can change our perceptions of other people. How our minds reassemble fragments of someone and the implications of this on the truth.

‘What do you want me to say?’

I am aware that it has been a few days.

I’ve been busy with 1. catching up on weeks of dirty washing; 2. reading Eggers’s long sentences; 3. interviewing students for an article.

Number 3. took place this morning, at the NGV Top Arts 2013 Media Preview. A few weeks ago, RMIT Catalyst sent out an email asking for someone to cover the upcoming arts exhibition. I, in a momentary fit of I-can-do-everything!, volunteered myself for the job. So here I was, at NGV Studio, interviewing 18-year-olds and repeatedly clarifying to other media personnel that no, I was in fact not one of the highschool graduates.

Interviews will be a major part of my project this year, and while I am still waiting for the approval of my ethics form before I can begin, I’ve started preparing for the process. Firstly, I downloaded a Skype recorder because if I simply take notes it may detract from the continuity of the conversation — and I might also miss important details. Secondly, I began to predict the course of questions and reflect on what my own expectations are of the initial interviews. How do these expectations influence how the interview will actually unfold? And the overall feel of the interview? What are my subject’s expectations, and how will this influence her response to my questions?

This idea of expectations became particularly relevant today during my interviews with the Top Arts artists. As rather young people who most likely haven’t been interviewed by the media before, many of the students I spoke to were intimidated by my well-meaning questions. To inquiries as innocent as ‘What were the inspirations for your project?’ came the response, ‘Um, what do you want me to say?’ Maybe they were expected the cliched pushy journalist, or else maybe the students haven’t yet learnt that they can lead a conversation with an older stranger — that I was interested in hearing their opinion, rather after a preconceived response.

I think during the interview process it will be important for me and also for my subject to consider the limitations of the interview format, however informal. In the same way, the limitations of my knowledge about someone else’s memory. I am interested in whether or not this limitation should be acknowledged when I am writing her story — does it reveal truth, or does it take the story away from her and make it mine? I guess this is the question of ‘otherness’ — what am I doing by acknowledging the edges that my inquiry is able to reach?